Self-help books have a reputation for being cheesy and overly cheerful. But if you have a genuine interest in improving your self-esteem, relationships and career, cracking open a self-improvement guide could be a great first step. You just have to find the right one — cheese-free.
Sure, the thought of entering the self-help aisle of your local bookstore can be daunting and downright awkward. So, we put together a cheat sheet of expert-recommended books that cover everything from confidence to self-promotion to harnessing your negative emotions. Read on for the best self-help books for inspiration and validation.
1. The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin
If you kind of hate self-help books but want to learn how to achieve contentment, The Happiness Project is the read for you. Award-winning author Gretchen Rubin chronicles her year-long journey to find happiness, drawing on cutting-edge science, classical philosophy and real-world experience. Think Eat, Pray, Love, but for self-help.
"I am an absolute lover of wellness and believe that personal wellness is driven in large part by figuring out and pursuing what makes us happy," says Emily Kapit, owner, lead resume writer and head career strategist at ReFresh Your Step. "Gretchen's seminal book on the topic, The Happiness Project, is part self-help book and part inspiration for truly living a more balanced, happier life."
2. The Art of Self-Promotion by Debby Stone
In a world that fetishizes humility, telling people about your accomplishments can feel cringey at best. But executive coach Debby Stone writes in The Art of Self-Promotion that knowing how to promote yourself to your peers, bosses and clients in an authentic way is the key to propelling your career forward.
"Stone, a prominent career advisor in the Atlanta area who speaks nationally, crafted the go-to book on learning how to approach self-promotion in a range of different settings and provides the strategies for doing so as well as explains why this ability is vitally important in work and life," Kapit says.
3. You Are a Badass by Jen Sincero
Success coach Jen Sincero's You Are a Badass is an entertaining guide on how to create a life you love. Through a blend of anecdotes, advice and easy exercises, you'll learn how to identify self-sabotaging beliefs and behaviors that are holding you back and give yourself the green-light to enjoy life (and make money!).
You'll learn how to accept the parts of your life that you can't change and change the parts of your life that you're not a huge fan of. Then, you can manifest the total badassness that's always been within you.
4. The Happiness Trap by Russ Harris
There's nothing like scrolling through Instagram and seeing picture upon picture of happy people to make you feel jealous or inadequate. In The Happiness Trap, medical practitioner, psychotherapist and ACT expert Russ Harris points out that the constant pressure society puts on us to be happy is, ironically, making us miserable.
"This book concisely asks us to consider that being happy all the time isn't a natural state for humans," says San Francisco-based executive coach Leila Bulling Towne. "When I first read that, I felt as if I was released from so many burdens: the pressure to immediately change a 'bad' feeling to a 'good' one."
5. The Self-Confidence Workbook by Barbara Markway, Ph.D.
For a hands-on way to learn how to overcome self-doubt and achieve your goals (even if you don't know what they are yet), turn to The Self-Confidence Workbook. Dr. Barbara Markway's book is like a grown-up study guide for a course in self-acceptance and compassion.
"I like it because: It's warm and nurturing, but still concise, to the point, and intensely practical," Alice Boyes, Ph.D., author of The Healthy Mind Toolkit and The Anxiety Toolkit. "Some self-help books can come across like they're written for teenagers, but this one feels like it's written for adults, and like the authors are your partners on your journey. It's a good mix of short explanations, written exercises and behavioral challenges that are all based on sound research."
6. The Upside of Your Dark Side by Todd Kashdan
When stress, anxiety, anger and sadness take the wheel, it can feel like you're allowing a bad attitude to ruin your life. But you have less control over your emotions than you think, and knowing that can be incredibly freeing. "This book will help you learn about specific negative emotions from an evolutionary perspective. Each specific emotion, including 'negative' emotions, has its own cognitive-behavioral benefits," Dr. Boyes says.
The Upside to Your Dark Side teaches you not how to suppress or ignore your less-than-pleasant emotions, but instead how to harness them for good. "Once you understand these, you'll be less fearful of negative emotions and you'll be able to harness them to your advantage. Todd is an enjoyable writer to read and one of the most creative thinkers in psychology."
7. The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg
Think of this book as a guide to hacking your habits. New York Times reporter Charles Duhigg draws on science to explain how understanding habit is the key to achieving your goals, whether they include exercising regularly, being more productive at work or losing weight. The Power of Habit will entertain you along the way with fascinating narratives involving everything from the NFL to the front lines of the civil rights movement.
8. Will I Ever Be Good Enough? by Karyl McBride, Ph.D.
"This book helps high-achieving woman understand why, despite their many accomplishments, don't feel'll 'good enough,'" says Florida-based clinical psychologist Marcia Norman, Ph.D. With Will I Ever Be Good Enough? you'll learn that your feelings of inadequacy aren't your fault, and they don't have to define your life.
"This book explains the dynamic of having a narcissistic parent and how that can shape one for a lifetime of 'I am just not good enough,'" Dr. Norman continues. "It also provides concrete steps for changing the way you see yourself. This book can be life-changing for woman who, despite outward success, struggle with low self-esteem."
9. Stop Walking on Eggshells by Paul Mason and Randi Kreger
If you've ever felt like you've been manipulated or controlled by a loved one, or have been the victim of intense violence or rage, Stop Walking on Eggshells may be able to help you. "This book is a classic, and for good reason. It is originally intended for people living with someone who has Borderline Personality Disorder, but it can apply in any situation where you feel controlled or as if you are walking on eggshells," Dr. Norman says.
"If you are in a situation where you have to be careful in what you say or do, this might be a great book for you. It really helps one understand and recognize controlling behavior, and helps one set clear, definable boundaries for a healthier, happier life."
10. Quiet by Susan Cain
Introverts, this one's for you! In Quiet, co-founder of Quiet Revolution, LLC, Susan Cain argues that society undervalues introverts (who make up one-third of the population, by the way) and explains why that's a major misstep.
By learning about the rise of the Extrovert Ideal and hearing stories about successful introverts (Rosa Parks, Dr. Seuss, Chopin — ever heard of them?) you'll come to see the value in your quietness and find out how to use it for to your advantage.